Claim: Arizona's Budget Problems Stem From Out-of-Control Spending

Arizona State University economists Dennis Hoffman and Tom Rex believe that tax cuts are to blame for Arizona's current budget deficit.

But taxes and spending are different sides of the same deficit coin. And spending has skyrocketed by 59 percent since 2003, while the state economy only grew by 42 percent ("Mo' Money Troubles," The Skinny, Nov. 6).

The state government used high tax revenues in the boom years to ratchet up spending to unsustainably high levels. In 2006, two out of every three dollars of the state's projected budget surplus went to new spending, while one dollar went to income-tax and property-tax cuts.

Next year's general-fund spending commitments will be about $2.4 billion higher than available revenues. The higher revenues the state might have had without the 2006 income-tax and property-tax cuts would have covered less than one-fifth of the gap. And that assumes (unrealistically) that the extra revenue in 2006 and 2007 would not have pushed spending even higher.

If Arizona government is to become fiscally responsible, it needs a firm spending limit, not higher taxes.

Tom Jenney, Arizona director, Americans for Prosperity

Want to Fix Area Schools? Consolidate, Increase Class Sizes and Lower Teacher Pay!

I am writing in response to "Time for a Turnaround" and "Shaking Things Up" in the Nov. 13 issue. I would like to share why I would never envision supporting these periodic pleas for school "budget overrides." No doubt a letter such as mine, which is framed around the "back when I was in school" mindset, may be dismissed by some. But truths endure, and logic retains its credibility regardless of a timeline.

Eastern states in which I have lived have one school superintendent and district for each county. I attended Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools from 1957 to 1969, in what I believe is one of the more populous counties in the country. We didn't have all these unified school districts, each with their own superintendent and layer of administration. Considerable money could be saved if we had Pima County Public Schools, with one superintendent. It works in Virginia and would work here.

Now let's look at teacher salaries. While qualifications and competency are necessary, I do not subscribe to the belief that teaching seems to require some unique or exceptional ability. I read that the average Tucson Unified School District teacher salary is $47,500 annually. This is excessive and unnecessary. In 1970, the starting salary at Fairfax County Public Schools was $7,250, which, when adjusted to today's inflation, is $37,000. For the most part, I had competent, good teachers.

An often-heard complaint deals with class sizes. I was in classes generally of 30 students from first to 12th grade. I, in no way, suffered from this teacher-student ratio, nor to my knowledge did any other student.

It is very off-putting to me when I see that students walk out of classes to protest various policies. Were such activities to occur during my school attendance, we would have been suspended, period.

Perhaps there is nothing which greater elicits curiosity on the current state of public education for me than these AIMS tests to determine whether a student is competent to graduate. What is the purpose of report cards? I assume they are still issued. When I was in school, they were the recognized evaluation of achievement in terms of course requirements. Required courses had to be passed in order to graduate. Any sort of additional testing would have been unnecessary, redundant and a waste of money.

TUSD gets nearly 40 percent of my property-tax bill. Property taxes are mandated to be paid, no matter the homeowner's financial circumstance during each six-month billing cycle. One can have experienced unforeseen medical expenses, car repairs or any variety of legitimate scenarios, yet the tax must be paid. If I am correct, 12 percent of my TUSD tax obligation comes from these secondary, add-on monies created via these budget overrides passed by voters.

The most recent TUSD request was, in part, for a program entitled Opening Minds Through the Arts. I hardly think this nice-to-have enrichment is integral to successful education, and certainly does not rise to the level of hitting the average homeowner with a mandatory $11 monthly tax increase. Those who vote for these overrides, if defeated, should alternatively send to TUSD $11 a month as their contribution. I have no children, and it is unfair that I must pay the same TUSD property-tax rate as does someone with children in school.

I have just demonstrated how to save TUSD considerable money. But it will call upon school administrations to be realistic and unselfish, and operate within their means, as most entities must. I have raised questions which need to be asked and answered.

Gary H. Goodall

Thanks for Telling Rick DeMont's Amazing Story

I swam for Rick DeMont in 1989 and was one of his first college swimmers ("Gold Medal Lockdown," Nov. 20).

I have heard his story many times, and your article is a most thorough and thoughtful collections of the facts, melted into a wonderful explanation of what has gone on in front of and behind the scenes. I learned many things that Rick had kept to himself--and that he is even more amazing than I ever realized (if that's at all possible).

I really appreciate you taking the time to get the story straight!

Seth Pepper

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